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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rift: Open or closed?

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With the dropping of the beta-test NDA for Rift: Planes of Telara I can tell you that I've spent some time in the beta test during the two closed beta events. Below you can find the feedback reports I sent in to Trion following my limited time in the beta, along with a summary of my thoughts about this upcoming MMO.

Rift is a new MMO that has been on my radar for a little while, and I know quite a few people that have been keeping an eye on it. It has been selling itself as a next-gen MMO, especially in the gloriously over hyped praise in their recent ad. So, does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out.

Here is the feedback I gave after the first event:

After a my first day playing the first Rift beta event, here are my considered thoughts. I’ve tried to make them as constructive as possible.

First impressions are good. The download and patching went really well and quickly. Upon logging in the queueing system seemed to work well, though the estimated time for the queue to drop was like a random number generator: 9 minutes > 6 minutes > 12 minutes > 2 minutes > 9 minutes...

Character creation was smooth and worked well after I had exited the game and turned off the forced AA on the catalyst control centre for my ATI Radeon 5850. Before I did that there were no character models visible at all. Character creation was only average compared to other fantasy MMOs, with a very limited number of hairstyles and body types. Being able to change the angle of your eyes and other such things doesn't make much difference in day to day play - you never get that close to other players. Past beta experience tells me that more will be added before launch however.

Once the queue had dropped and I entered the game I was treated to a great cutscene that told the back story succinctly and well. Then I was in, and the starting area was absolutely packed with other players. Despite this the game ran smoothly and I was getting decent fps on High graphics settings.

One thing Trion seem to have got right is the server architecture and the base game engine. I never once encountered a bug, and the game ran smoothly for me throughout the day. In fact, based on what I’ve seen so far, the game could be shipped tomorrow and still be more stable than most MMO launches. Great job here. That means my feedback is more about my impressions than about specific bugs and glitches.

I found the graphics engine to be a mix of great and average. The general landscapes were good, but not awe-inspiring (I still think Lord of the Rings Online has one of the best landscape engines around). The engine may be good enough but I think the art direction is a little lacking and areas lack wow-factor. Character and MOB models are excellent and very well detailed. Character animation does need some considerable work though. The first thing I noticed is that my character ran as though he was trying to run through treacle. I’m sure this was down to the animation rather than the actual run speed, but it was quite disconcerting. I also found combat animations on my warrior beyond boring (I know this was low level stuff, but it didn’t make a good impression). I later tried a blade-dancer, and the starting animations were much better (though still a little vanilla).

After playing around with the extensive UI options (another good job done here) I was ready to go. I like the fact there was a global UI scale option, and it seemed to work very well - when I shrunk the UI scale there was no muddying or blurring of text or icons. I’d also like to praise the tutorial system, which was useful and informative without being annoying.

It was here that things started to go not so much wrong, but to take a turn for the average. I did like the starter area storyline, but I found the quests to be very derivative indeed. Go kill 6 of this, go kill 8 of those, go collect 5 of the other (by killing 5 of the mobs that hold them), etc. The mobs were not particularly interesting, and neither was the area, which funnelled you through a tunnel of content from one quest node to the next.

I did find that sometimes quest text windows seemed to close of their own accord, before I had finished reading them or had chance to click my option. I would have to start the conversation again from the beginning. However, I’m pleased to report that this has already been addressed by Trion in a patch - good work!

Combat was a little dull. The cooldowns on the skills are a too long, and unbelievably there doesn’t appear to be a skill queueing system of any kind ( I couldn’t even queue one skill). If you are going to have a global cooldown system then you need to be able to queue one ability to improve responsiveness. There was no feeling of instant feedback when issuing commands, which is one thing that WoW did get right. It does not feel responsive. The whole thing reminded me of the starting areas of Warhammer Online, both in terms of atmosphere and skills/combat.

Mob density was too low for the number of players around. It took me almost an hour to complete one quest because every time a relevant mob spawned about 20 players jumped on it. I only needed to kill 8 of them! This won’t be a problem after a while, but will be during the launch period if it is not addressed.

The death penalty soul run works (as evidenced by its use in other MMOs), but that’s all I have to say about it.

I noticed I had a collection and achievements window in the UI, but didn’t find a single one in game. Perhaps they do not appear until later levels.

The class system, which I was really looking forwards to trying, is actually nowhere near as innovative as I had thought. It seems like an expanded set of AA trees, and like most AA systems will cause the player to suffer if they do not concentrate their points into one branch. I have only tried two classes so far (champion and blade-dancer) but neither are particularly exciting, and I found no compulsion to put points into second soul trees, concentrating only on the main class tree. It seemed like a waste to do otherwise. There should be some other form of encouragement to spend points in other soul trees, like points allocated to specific trees every few levels.

I encountered a few Rifts during my time in the test. They look great graphically, and maybe at higher levels if they have time to grow will really change an area. However, in the experiences I had they were basically exactly the same as the Public Quests in Warhammer Online. Also, whilst supposedly random in the when and where of how they appear, I did come across three rifts that appeared in exactly the same spot in a thirty minute period!

To summarise, my overall impression is of a very highly polished and stable game with good to great graphics. I found the gameplay to be highly derivative of other MMOs, and was not really grabbed by anything. The two things I was looking forwards to playing with the most - rifts and the class soul system - were both much less exciting and innovative that they seemed on paper. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself and the game is surprisingly bug-free and stable, but it does not offer nearly enough as it stands right now for me to think about subscribing come release.

I understand that this impression is based on the early level play in an early part of beta, but there is nothing here that grabbed me and made me want to continue to the higher levels (where some of the issues may well be resolved). The game needs to grab you earlier if it is to turn box sales into subscriptions.

I can see the game receiving reviews in the 70-80% range if it launches as it is now. It is a good but not spectacular current-gen MMO, not the amazing next-gen game I was hoping for.

I’d like to thank Trion for the opportunity to test and will definitely return to any future events I’m invited to, to see if I can offer any further feedback.


Here's my (much more succinct) feedback after the second beta event:

The game remains as stable and polished as last time, and things have improved somewhat since the first beta event. The global cooldown is still present and annoying, though at least it is now possible to queue up the next skill. I have also enjoyed the beefed up Rifts and invasion events.

But....

...the main track of the game is still boring. The questing gameplay lacks anything of interest and is too easy (you don’t need to read the text, just accept and head to the dot on your map). The quests are still funnelling you down one path, from one hub to the next, and are standard mmo fare.

The lore for the game has potential, but there is very little of it and what you learn during questing is uninspiring. The game world looks good (but not spectacular) but seems lifeless and cold. There is no soul to the game.

Overall, an improvement, but still nowhere near good enough to persuade me to pay a subscription.


So, to summarise my thoughts, Rift is far from the next gen MMO that is being touted in their pre-release press. It is a stable and competent current generation MMO that offers little new or innovative to the mix. I can see it finding a market for itself, but there is nothing to persuade current players away from their existing games other than the opportunity to try something different. How it will cope against the two big MMO releases next year (Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic) remains to be seen, but I feel it will probably come third in that three horse race.

Saying all that, there is still time to change things before release, but the fundamentals of the game remain uninspiring.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on stuff mate. Nice in depth reports. They were much more useful than mine were to Trion I think ;)"Fix GCD!"

    ReplyDelete

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